Switching rates for US smartphone users suggest 50% penetration by August 2012

The latest comScore MobiLens is out and it allows an update to the picture of the US phone using population. Through the three month period ending May 2011, smartphones were in use by 76.8 million or about one in three US phone users. Here are some other highlights:

  • A total of 513k users switched into using a smartphone every week during the period, a rate of switching consistent with the last 17 periods (average of 510k/wk).
  • Penetration of smartphones increased by 940 basis points, slightly higher than the 900 bp increase in the last period but consistent with average.
  • Using a four-period trailing average and linear extrapolation, 50% penetration will be reached by August 2012. “Summer 2012” seems a safe bet as that target has not changed much.

I’ve updated the countdown counter (Phone Tipping point at top of right column on this page) to reflect the new date.

The following charts show the penetration and switching rates.




  • And when they do switch, it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall and discover how they made their choice of smartphone handset. Were they influenced by friends, the carrier's recommendations, a TV ad? I would imagine that data is hard to collect since it would have to come from both carriers, independent kiosks, and stores. What was tops on their motivation list? Games, social, video chat, or "just everything?" I'm sure the reason for switching and the demographics of the buyer makes it a complicated picture, and we'll just have to infer it by handset sales growth, eh?

    • At an average of 510k/wk, you're going to need to posses a lot of flies!

  • Ted cranmore

    I’d like to know what percentage of retailer shelf space is smartphone and how this percentage has changed over time. I imagine at some point the smartphone curve will rise even faster as a feature phone will become a special request pulled from underneath the counter.

  • Kristian

    Could you include iPhone user count and estimate to that table with funky color 😉 Thanks again Horace!

    • asymco

      Separate post coming with platform splits.

  • bossjet

    Given the significant cost of a monthly smartphone plan I would imagine that there would be slowdown sooner than later, pushing the out the phone tipping point date . It would be interesting to see the smartphone adoption rate across different income brackets.

    • asymco

      I think the slowdown will happen after 50% penetration. I also expect the operators will begin a price war at that point. The same thing happened with voice plans after the tipping point and the same thing already happened in other markets where 3G was rolled out earlier and saturation already came to pass.

      • chandra2

        What is the effect of this slowdown on the ASP and gross margin of iPhone?

      • asymco

        2012 will be an important year. I believe the iPhone will be re-positioned or at least there will be an expansion of the portfolio.

        I've tweeted before that SJ said in 2007 that the iPhone had a five year lead. It will be five years in 2012.

      • Eric D.

        When he said that, Jobs didn't know that Google was likely already working on Android. I wonder if we'll ever find out what sparked that project, and how it grew up to be curiously similar to iOS.

      • The word is that Android was targeting RIM with a BB clone until the iPhone came out. There are some who believe that Google changed targets BEFORE the release of the iPhone, because Schmidt was on Apple's board and had inside info, but there is no indication that Schmidt ever did anything unethical before the iPhone was public knowledge.

        And Jobs might have known that Google was developing Android. Google bought the company that was developing Android and that wasn't exactly a secret. No reason why Jobs and Apple wouldn't have known this.

    • kevin

      A similar case is broadband internet in the US, which was a significant cost increase over dial-up. Uptake for it didn't slow down until after the 50% mark was passed, and it continues to hover around 65-70%. I believe smartphones will take a similar path.

      • asymco

        Good comparison. The problem with broadband in the US is that prices did not actually decrease as penetration increased. I think that is part of the reason why it's still not saturated above 80%. In Nordic countries broadband is unbundled from cable/TV service and as a result pricing is far lower and penetration higher.

        This will be interesting to watch. Bundling phone+voice+messaging+mobile broadband keeps the barriers to entry high. Unbundling can increase consumption but operators may decide on a different basis.

      • Ian Straus

        My [local] survey data from spring 2011 & fall 2010 shows that smartphone penetration among bus riders (whose median income is definitely lower than average) only trails the general local population by 3%. Yes it’s all in its early stages, but these guys used not to be early adopters of expenive elecronics.
        So I expect smartphone to level out at a higher penetraiton than broadband did. It does not appear to be as sensitive to income.

  • Cherog

    Do you have any idea about Europe?
    I know we have a very high smart phone base in Switzerland. If I'm correct we have between 500'000 and 600'000 iPhones and are less than 8 Mio inhabitants
    Another point is Asia. I was recently in India, China and Vietnam. I was amazed to see the amount of people especially in Vietnam using smart phones. If you imagine we talk of a population of 1.2 and 1.3 bill. in China and India. Do you have any figures about these countries?

    • asymco

      I tweeted that Vietnam is at 29% penetration (very similar to the US). Korea is at 40% (up from 2% two years ago) and as another sample point, Australia is switching at 70% sales rate. I received a tweet saying "@PierreTouzet @asymco in Switzerland there's around 1M iPhones in circulation… in a country with 7.5M people"

      • mrrtmrrt

        Australia is interesting. Not only have smartphones passed dumbphones and hit 79% penetration in Q1 2011 according to IDC, but because the iPhone has 40% of the smartphone market, it also has 30% of the total cellular market making it the number one cell phone in Australia as well as the number one smartphone.

        It is also very interesting that iPhone shipments were amazingly up 13% quarter-on-quarter compared to the Christmas quarter, so it is not just iPhone availability on Verizon in the USA that has goosed total iPhone sales last quarter.

        Nokia which was the number one smartphone manufacturer with 50% in Q1 2010 has plummeted to 22%.

        By contrast, Android has 30% of the Australian smartphone market or 23% of the overall cell phone market.

        Amazing what being on every carrier at multiple price points and available on both pre and post paid can achieve for Apple. Makes one wonder what might have happened if the iPhone hadn't been exclusive to AT&T for all those years in the USA.


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  • Ajay

    In india, most users of smart phones generally buy it for the oomph factor only. At best, they may configure their mail, thought most users don’t even do that.

    Android handsets with big screens can get quickly get popular here. A bit like American SUVs, the bigger it is, the better.

    Younger crowd will like Facebook and chatting on the go. Which is why Facebook Is working hard to make facebook available on feature phones as well

  • "Using a four-period trailing average and linear extrapolation, 50% penetration will be reached by August 2012."
    Can you explain why you decided on a linear extrapolation? Is it because the current data seems to show a linear trend? Do other similar "tipping point" scenarios usually happen linearly (at least until a slowdown)?
    I would have anticipated more of an S-curve with accelerating adoption initially, as feature phones fall out of favor faster and faster.

    • asymco

      It is an s curve but the time frame for the forecast is so short that a linear model is good enough.

  • I'm curious why new adds seem to spike around January and July. Are most contracts up for renewal during those months?

    Also, interesting that in 2011, the spike occurred in February rather than January – does that have anything to do with the Verizon iPhone?

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